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AMERICAN MORNING

Ron Mazzoli Gives New Meaning to Term College Senior

Aired September 9, 2003 - 07:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Ron Mazzoli gives new meaning to the term college senior. Fifty years after receiving his bachelor's degree, the 70-year-old has enrolled to pursue his master's degree at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Mazzoli is no stranger to public service. He served more than two decades as a congressman from Kentucky.

Ron Mazzoli and his wife Helen join us now from the Harvard campus, right in front of Lowell House, I believe, to talk a little bit about their back to school experiences.

Hey, good morning.

Nice to have you both.

Thanks for joining us.

RON MAZZOLI, ATTENDING HARVARD AT AGE 70, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Good morning, Soledad.

HELEN MAZZOLI, RON MAZZOLI'S WIFE: Good morning.

RON MAZZOLI: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Congressman, you're 70 years old, you have your bachelor's degree. This is a mid-career sort of program, master's degree program you're entering.

Why did you want to do this?

RON MAZZOLI: Well, you know, Soledad, I've always believed in education. My father was an immigrant to this country and my mother and he put together a business to be able to send us to school. And I've always valued education. And Helen and I were here for a period of time last year, in 2002, and we learned about this program at the Kennedy School and this past summer I threw my hat in the ring and here we are living in Lowell House.

It's really a dream come true.

O'BRIEN: Now, Lowell House is one of Harvard's undergraduate houses. Does that mean you're living next to like sophomores and juniors and seniors? Is that right?

RON MAZZOLI: Indeed, Soledad. Last night we went to the pizza party, which welcomed the new students to Lowell House. And so we're scarfing down pizza and we're talking to the kids and we met a whole bunch of the young men who live in what we call I Entryway.

So, yes, indeed, we're living here and this was the part that I wanted most, that we wanted most, is to really be part of campus and student life. And here we are right here in Lowell House, one of the great storied and fabled houses of Harvard.

O'BRIEN: It truly is. And I have to say, you are the first congressman I've ever spoken to who has used the phrase scarfing down pizza with his roommates.

RON MAZZOLI: I...

O'BRIEN: Now -- huh?

RON MAZZOLI: If you use -- if you hang around me long enough, Soledad, I'll wind up saying things like cool once in a while, because we have two gadgets and they teach us all this new lingo.

O'BRIEN: Oh, you see, I thought you were trying to blend in with the other students. Are you -- how have you found the work load? I know it's early yet. You guys are what Harvard likes to call shopping classes, which means you get to sit in and kind of hear and feel out the professors.

RON MAZZOLI: That's right.

O'BRIEN: How are you finding the work load, because I think everything is on computer now, for the most part, right?

RON MAZZOLI: It is and we took computer classes this summer to prepare ourselves. It's just going to be tough. I mean the truth of the matter is I have to see if I have the intellectual energy and the physical energy to really keep up with these young students. But based on the summer program -- I was here for a month this summer, in July and August -- and, you know, give or take a little bit, I kept up with these young people in their 30s. So I am hoping that I will hold true to keep up with the now younger students in their 20s. But it's going to be a challenge.

O'BRIEN: Now your professors, I've got to imagine, you've got a couple of years on your professors, as well.

Mrs. Mazzoli, I want to ask you a question.

You were a congressman's wife for a long time. Now you're the wife of a student, which usually means bad food, a small space. How is it going so far?

HELEN MAZZOLI: So far we are doing very well. I've added some homey touches to the dorm and things are looking up.

O'BRIEN: Like what kind of homey touches are you talking about? Because I know those dorms pretty well and they are not always very attractive.

HELEN MAZZOLI: Pillows and scarves and pictures, things like that, just to remind us of home.

RON MAZZOLI: Yes...

O'BRIEN: Now...

RON MAZZOLI: We have pictures of our gadgets and so forth.

O'BRIEN: I know that, you know, obviously, Harvard is not much of a party school. But you are going to be, as you say, living, you know, next door to lots of young people.

RON MAZZOLI: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Do you have any concerns about, you know, I mean what's your bed time? Do you want to be asleep by nine o'clock? Are you going to tell people, shhhh, I'm trying to get my rest tonight?

RON MAZZOLI: No.

HELEN MAZZOLI: I don't think so.

RON MAZZOLI: No. I think we're going to blend in nicely, Soledad. We had an experience, last night the kids were moving in, a lot of door banging and knocking around on floors. And, you know, we handled that. I mean we've been around our own children and we've been around our grandchildren. So we've not been living like in a cave somewhere where everything is quiet and placid.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but...

RON MAZZOLI: But, on the other hand, it's going to take -- I know it's going to take some adjustment and that's what I hope I'm able -- I think the idea of being flexible -- you know, getting old is one thing, but remaining flexible and being able to have coping skills and being resourceful are part of what I think keeps you young, along with learning and intellectual activity.

And so I hope we have the best of the world. Intellectual, I mean Harvard is Harvard. It's an amazing place. You can learn so many things from so many learned people. But it's also a place of youth and vitality and energy and I think we're going to plug into all of that and it's going to be a fascinating year, just a fascinating year.

O'BRIEN: We only have a few seconds left and I want to ask you, the program lasts a year, so at the end of the year you'll have your master's degree. What do you do with your degree? What do you want to do next?

RON MAZZOLI: Well, actually, it's a very good question. Soledad, I always tell my audiences at home that I haven't yet figured out what I'll do when I grow up. So I still have some growing up to do. I still have some things I want to explore. The degree will not be used in a career sense, but to just fulfill my ambition and also to give me a better opportunity to help people in the world. I'd like to be in some non-profit activity. But the degree is really an opportunity for me to learn from this wonderful group of people assembled from around the world, my students and my classmates, and to learn from them as well as learning from my profs and learning from the textbooks.

O'BRIEN: Well, congratulations...

RON MAZZOLI: I think it's a learning process. Life is.

O'BRIEN: Well, congratulations to you.

RON MAZZOLI: And thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: It's my pleasure.

RON MAZZOLI: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you, Ron Mazzoli, and Helen Mazzoli, as well.

Good luck to you.

Study.

RON MAZZOLI: Thanks, Soledad.

HELEN MAZZOLI: Thank you.

RON MAZZOLI: Thank you very much.

HELEN MAZZOLI: Bye.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining us this morning.

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